Swift work by NVision, Inc. helped a major U.S. airline quickly repair a bird-damaged Boeing 737 wing and return the restored jet back to flight in just two days. The rapid turnaround helped the airline avoid the financial losses typically incurred by grounding aircraft.
Birds and planes can be an expensive and disruptive mix, costing airlines worldwide billions of dollars in damages each year. Bird strikes in 2017 cost the civil aviation industry at least 71,253 hours of aircraft downtime and the FAA estimates that $400 million in damages annually can be attributed to bird strikes in the United States alone. Despite various preventative measures aimed at reducing the number of strikes, it is a problem that will continue to cause considerable trouble for airlines; FAA data shows that U.S.- based civilian flights reported 14,661 bird strikes in 2018 - or more than 40 a day.
In this case, the airline, a low-cost domestic carrier, had suffered damage to one of its 737's wing ribs, requiring the aircraft to be grounded until repairs were made. Wing ribs are an essential part of a plane's wing assembly. Attached to the spar, the main spanwise beam of an airplane wing, ribs form the “skeleton” of a wing's structure, giving it its airfoil shape.
Familiar with NVision's aerospace work, the carrier sought the company's help. NVision technicians traveled to the airline's facilities and scanned the damaged wing rib using the company's HandHeld laser scanner, collecting all the necessary data on the rib's exact geometry, including its shape, size, and contours.
The NVision Handheld scanner is a powerful portable scanning device that is capable of capturing 3D geometry from objects of almost any size or shape. The scanner is attached to a mechanical arm that moves about the object, freeing the user to capture data rapidly with a high degree of resolution and accuracy. As a part is inspected, the scanner generates a point cloud consisting of millions of points each with x,y,z coordinates and i,j,k vectors. Integrated software that comes with the scanner is used to convert the point cloud to an STL polygon and an optional tripod provides complete portability in the field. Intuitive software allows real-time rendering, full model editing, polygon reduction, and data output to all standard 3D packages.
After converting the rib's point cloud to an STL file, NVision technicians imported the file into specialized modeling software, where CAD engineers processed the data to an IGES/STEP model. Design engineers then created an insert to strengthen the rib and electronically transferred the manufacturable CAD model to the airline, where it was rapidly machined and installed, enabling the damaged plane to fly again just 48 hours after the strike.
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